Read More Women

“Well, I’d read more female authors if only I knew of any.” – ancient bro proverb

So, I got the idea for this post from the wonderful Hannah while we were brainstorming what I should do for International Women’s Day.  The idea behind this post is essentially ‘if you liked x book by this male author, try y book by this female author.’  I tend to find that with people who don’t read female authors the excuses are either ‘I don’t know any’ or ‘they don’t write about the kinds of things I’m interested in,’ so we are here to remedy both of those misconceptions.

If you liked The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne, read Tin Man by Sarah Winman.

Tin Man is essentially a more compact (and more British) version of The Heart’s Invisible Furies, but they each offer the same kind of heart and heartbreak.  Set in the 20th century in Ireland and England respectively, these are both coming of age novels that feature a protagonist coming to terms with his sexuality while living in a deeply conservative society.  I didn’t think Winman would be able to break my heart with her short little novel in the same way Boyne did with his 500 page epic, but she rose to the challenge.

If you liked All We Shall Know by Donal Ryan, read Tender by Belinda McKeon.

Featuring two of my favorite contemporary Irish writers, All We Shall Know and Tender are striking, beautifully written novels about passion and obsession and different kinds of love.  If you like the feeling of near-claustrophobic tension that you get from Donal Ryan’s novels, you need to pick up Tender immediately.

If you liked East of Eden by John Steinbeck, read Pachinko by Min Jin Lee.

… I know, it’s a weird comparison on the surface, but hear me out.  Both novels are multi-generational family sagas that span the 20th century, though one takes place in the US and the other takes place in Korea and Japan.  But despite the differences, the thematic conceits of these two books are surprisingly similar, focusing on religion, family ties, and whether children are irrevocably shaped by the sins of their parents.

If you liked Bright Air Black by David Vann, read Medea by Christa Wolf.

This one’s a bit obvious: both are retellings of Euripides’ Medea.  But, the interesting thing about these two books is that their approach to this character couldn’t be any more different if they tried.  Vann’s Medea is savage, unhinged; Wolf’s Medea is composed, calculating.  Both interpretations remain fiercely loyal to the original story, in their own way, and even if you loved Vann’s approach to this character you’ll probably still be deeply moved by Wolf’s politically-driven retelling.

If you liked The Italian Teacher by Tom Rachman, read The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose.

These two novels look at contemporary art through very disparate lenses, but if you’re an art lover, both are valuable reads.  The Italian Teacher is mostly set in the 20th century and focuses on the career of a fictional artist, while The Museum of Modern Love features a fictionalization of the real-life performance artist Marina Abramovic, but both novels are written by authors with clear love and passion for the subject matter, rather than using art as an underdeveloped backdrop for their stories.  If you were drawn into Rachman’s fictional melodrama, you’ll undoubtedly be riveted by Rose’s stranger-than-fiction novel.

If you liked The Overstory by Richard Powers, read Lab Girl by Hope Jahren.

I read both of these books very close to one another and I had the same problem with each of them: I don’t care about trees.  But!  The good news is that if you are into tree books, these are about as good as it gets.  The Overstory is a novel which centers on a group of environmental activists, and Lab Girl is a memoir by a research scientist, and both are written with a searing love and passion for nature that I can’t help but to admire, even if it isn’t to my own personal taste.  If The Overstory whet your appetite for this kind of story, Jahren’s memoir is a fantastic nonfiction counterpart.

If you liked On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan, read When I Hit You by Meena Kandasamy.

Both of these books are about the failure of a marriage; in one because the two parties are unable to communicate with one another, in the other because of a severe case of domestic abuse.  But the similar thread lies in the way the female protagonist of each novel has deeply internalized and given into certain social pressures that she was raised to adhere to.  Both are quiet, perceptive, hard-hitting novels about all the ways in which a society can fail women when it comes to marriage.

If you liked Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter, read The Trick is to Keep Breathing by Janice Galloway.

Both authors provide alarmingly incisive commentary on the grieving process – Grief is the Thing With Feathers is more abstract while The Trick is to Keep Breathing is much more literal, but both are deeply introspective novels that are quietly affecting.

If you liked Call Me By Your Name by Andre Aciman, read The Pisces by Melissa Broder.

If you like your romance novels to be all at once crude, sensual, obsessive, literary, and unorthodox, chances are you’ll enjoy both of these books.  They don’t have a whole lot in common on the surface (Call Me By Your Name is a gay romance set in the Italian Riviera; The Pisces is a strange love affair between a woman and a merman in contemporary Los Angeles), but both chronicle the destructive nature of love with razor sharp precision.  And both have lush beach settings, if you’re into that kind of thing.

If you liked The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides, read The Dreamers by Karen Thompson Walker.

Both are sort of dreamy, hypnotic books about something going desperately wrong in small-town America, chronicling both the phenomenon (in one, suicide, in the other, illness), and tying in social commentary that contextualizes the characters’ realities.  (I’d also add that The Dreamers is good and The Virgin Suicides is not good, if you want my personal opinion.)


Happy International Women’s Day!  Which pairs of books by a male and female author would you add to this post?  Let me know!  Suggestions absolutely welcome.  Let’s chat.

book review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

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AN AMERICAN MARRIAGE by Tayari Jones
★★★☆☆
Algonquin Books, 2018

 

I think this is a good book, if an unbalanced one. I felt like I was getting whiplash from the amount of times I veered from admiration to frustration and then back again. An American Marriage chronicles the doomed romance of Roy and Celestial: the two have a passionate (if slightly tempestuous) relationship, but only a year and a half into their marriage Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime they both know he didn’t commit.

The first section of this book is, in my opinion, the most compelling. We watch Roy and Celestial’s marriage crumble through a series of letters they send one another while Roy is in prison. It’s hard not to be moved by the situation’s tragedy at this point: there’s never any question that Roy and Celestial love one another, but torn apart by circumstances outside of their control, the cracks that begin to form are unavoidable. Roy and Celestial aren’t particularly likable characters, and their relationship isn’t necessarily one we find ourselves rooting for, but I do have to admire the way Tayari Jones allows her protagonists to be imperfect.

In part 2, the novel’s momentum comes to a screeching halt. While the first hundred pages take place over five years, the next two hundred take place over a couple of days. So what was shaping up to be a rather pacy read becomes a bit of a slog at this point, and an oddly melodramatic one. And while Tayari Jones offers some wonderful and incisive commentary throughout about race, marriage, and parenthood, I did feel like the element of racial injustice in the US legal system was a bit underdeveloped. Instead the novel’s premise ultimately felt like a rather perfunctory backdrop which was being used to explore the strain a marriage undergoes while the partners are forced to separate. Certainly an interesting theme, but after several hundred pages of this I was hoping for a bit more depth in other areas which instead felt a bit contrived and simplistic.

But I will say, what I admired the most about this novel was how equitable it was. I didn’t feel like Tayari Jones was trying to manipulate the reader into taking either Roy or Celestial’s side, and I felt like she was very cognizant of the fact that there are no easy answers in a situation as convoluted as this one. So ultimately I’m just a bit torn – this was at times exhilarating and at times boring; sometimes incredibly perceptive and sometimes underdeveloped. I think this is a worthwhile read and a worthwhile addition to the Women’s Prize 2019 longlist, but ultimately it wasn’t as impactful as I thought it would end up being when I first picked it up. Still, it’s a quick and thought-provoking read and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it.

You can pick up a copy of An American Marriage here on Book Depository.

book review: When All Is Said by Anne Griffin

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WHEN ALL IS SAID by Anne Griffin
★★☆☆☆
Thomas Dunne Books, March 5, 2019

 

Oh man, this is a tough one. It is not often the case that I look at glowing reviews and think ‘did we read the same book?!’ but here we are… I was convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that I was going to love this, too! When All Is Said is a contemporary Irish novel about an old man named Maurice who’s looking back at his life and giving a toast to the five people who had the greatest influence on him, most of whom are already dead. So it’s a premise that promises nostalgia and regret and heartache, but I never really felt any of it.

My main issue with this book was Maurice’s first-person narration – I just wasn’t convinced by his voice. Forgive me, but you know how sometimes you read a female character and think ‘yep, a man wrote this book’ – I felt the opposite here. (Which is more of a gut feeling and probably a baseless one that’s impossible to quantify, so I’m just going to move on.) It’s established early on in this book that Maurice has dyslexia which led him to quit schooling at a very early age and develop a lifelong antipathy for literature; instead he fills his days with farming and various other business ventures. So while Maurice is clearly an intelligent man, and I have no qualms with that intelligence being on display, I’m not sure why Anne Griffin wanted us to believe he was a poetic one? Lines like this:

But her story is like the wind under the front door, whistling its way through the crevices, getting through the cracks in my skin.

and this:

There was a love but of the Irish kind, reserved and embarrassed by its own humanity.

pulled me out of the story again and again, because why would this 84 year old farmer use that simile, why would he have that sophisticated emotional vocabulary? I guess this goes hand in hand, but what also grated on me was the fact that we were essentially spoon-fed the ways in which the love and loss of these five characters shaped Maurice. Take this passage from the first chapter, where Maurice describes the death of his older brother Tony:

It’s so hard to lose your best friend at any time, but to do so at such a young age was pure cruel. At sixteen I was heading into my life. Having travelled those precious years with Tony by my side, I now had to venture forth into the most significant of them alone. Without his guidance, his cajoling, his slagging. It didn’t feel possible.

It’s too articulate, it’s too on the nose. Funny that this is called ‘When All Is Said,’ because that was exactly my problem: nothing is left unsaid. There is no room for the reader to think or feel anything organically, because we are told exactly how we should think and feel about Maurice’s story. This was missing tension, nuance, thematic complexity. I’ll concede that Maurice is a well-constructed character, and that Anne Griffin makes a real effort to weave together moments of joy with moments of sorrow to paint a three-dimensional picture of this character’s life, I just felt utterly empty while reading this.

Thanks to Netgalley and Thomas Dunne Books for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review. Quotes are from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

You can pick up a copy of When All Is Said here on Book Depository.

book review: Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

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DAISY JONES & THE SIX by Taylor Jenkins Reid
★★★★☆
Ballantine Books, March 5, 2019

 

For better or worse Daisy Jones & The Six is a big departure from Taylor Jenkins Reid’s 2017 bestseller The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and though I’m sure this one will do equally well commercially, I’m not convinced that it will win the hearts of quite as many readers. The format takes some getting used to – it’s a series of interviews woven together from members of a Fleetwood Mac-inspired fictional band, and as such the entire novel is essentially told in dialogue. I’m not sure every reader will be able to get over that hurdle and settle into the novel’s rhythm, but I ended up really enjoying this.

I do have a few qualms, so let’s get those out of the way. While I thought the interview format was ultimately the right choice for this story, it led to a few awkward passages, as the only descriptions of setting we got were from the characters themselves, and there were some moments that felt wildly inauthentic to me – someone remembering exactly what a character was wearing 30 years ago, or describing a perfectly ordinary occurrence with a kind of poetic language that didn’t ring true for the circumstances in which the interview was being conducted. I know that Taylor Jenkins Reid probably had to take some poetic license here lest her dialogue come across as flat and stilted, but it didn’t always work for me.

I also wasn’t terribly impressed with the construction of the supporting characters; all of the male characters were essentially interchangeable, and I found myself frustrated with Camila’s portrayal as this utter paragon of goodness (I’m glad Taylor Jenkins Reid didn’t want to pigeonhole her into the ‘jealous wife’ role, but I think she overcompensated too much in the other direction – she was just unrealistically stolid).

Sorry, that was a lot of negativity for a book I ultimately enjoyed. Let’s get to the good stuff. This is a glorious portrayal of the 70s rock scene in LA; not to fall back on a cliche and say that this book is all about sex, drugs, and rock and roll, but it kind of is, in a way that felt both nuanced and convincing. No one does atmosphere quite like Taylor Jenkins Reid – in both of her novels that I’ve read I’ve just been so immersed into a period of twentieth century history that I didn’t think I cared all that much about, only to be riveted by her ability to evoke time and place, and use the setting to explore such brilliant character dynamics.

Which brings us to the other wonderful thing about this book. The chemistry between the band’s two leads, Daisy and Billy, leaps off the page – if you aren’t forcibly drawn into their thorny dynamic I don’t even know what to tell you. And one last note: Karen! I cannot even explain how delighted I was to see a female character who knows she does not want children and knows her own mind enough that she’s never questioned it. I feel like narratives about women not wanting children are often fraught with self-doubt, and it’s not that I think these narratives are unrealistic, but they don’t speak for every woman who decides to remain childless, and I just have never been happier with a portrayal of this than in this book.

So all in all, a mixed bag, but the good really did outweigh the bad for me, and I ultimately thought this was fun and quietly tragic all at once.

Thank you to Netgalley and Ballantine for the advanced copy provided in exchange for an honest review.

Pick up a copy of Daisy Jones & The Six here on Book Depository.

Women’s Prize 2019 Longlist Reaction

By popular demand (*I asked on Twitter and a grand total of two people said they were interested in this), here are my reactions to the Women’s Prize longlist!

The list was announced last night and in case you missed it, you can check it out here.

I did pretty terribly with my predictions, I only got 4/16.  But, I am actually pleased with how the list turned out!

I’ve read half (!) the list already, and weirdly enough, I actually enjoyed all 8 of the books I’ve already read.  My least favorite of this group is Circe, which I liked but didn’t love, but I still gave it 3 stars.  The rest of these I gave either 4 or 5 stars.  So, let’s run through these:

  • I am THRILLED to see The Pisces getting some long overdue recognition.  I may or may not have screamed YES!!!! when I saw this.
  • Obviously Milkman was my top book of 2018, so even though it already (rightfully!) won the Booker, I’m excited to see it here.  I probably won’t be rooting for it to win even though it’s my favorite, as I think any of these other books could use the publicity a bit more (except maybe Circe and Normal People).  But it really is a spectacular book and it fully earned its spot here as far as I’m concerned.
  • Ghost Wall is just a phenomenal piece of literature that deserves all of the accolades.
  • The Silence of the Girls is the best Iliad retelling I’ve read, and I have read many.  I thought it was snubbed from the Booker so I’m excited to see it here.
  • Like I mentioned, Circe wasn’t my favorite, though I do think it’s objectively a very good book and I absolutely understand the acclaim.  I’m not upset to see it here.  This book doesn’t inspire a huge reaction in me either way.
  • I think My Sister, The Serial Killer is an underestimated tour de force of a novel, which is a fun romp on the surface but has a lot of hidden depths, so I’m excited to see it recognized here.
  • I know we’re all tired of Normal People, but it’s just as good as everyone says.
  • Freshwater I adored but I was initially confused about this one, as Akwaeke Emezi is non-binary and has been very outspoken about this on Twitter.  There have already been a couple of articles about this (x, x), but the important thing is that Emezi was consulted and gave their blessing about being included on this list.  I do think there’s an important conversation to be had about allowing non-binary writers into this space, as the prize was initially created to give a platform to works that were being overshadowed by male authors, which certainly applies to non-binary writers as well female writers.  In which case, maybe it’s time to reconsider the name ‘Women’s Prize’…?

As for the rest, since I’ve already read 8 I may as well read the whole list, right?  The only one of these that was already on my TBR was An American Marriage, which has been out for a million years in the US – I feel like the last American who hasn’t read this yet.  I’d heard of some of the others – I wasn’t convinced that Lost Children Archive, Ordinary People, or Swan Song were my kind of books, and Number One Chinese Restaurant has an alarmingly low Goodreads rating (3.11!!) so I’m a little nervous about that… but I’m willing to try them all.

The three I hadn’t heard of are Bottled Goods, Remembered, and Praise Song for the Butterflies, which I’m interested in in that order.

I put library holds on An American Marriage, Number One Chinese Restaurant, Lost Children Archive, and Praise Song for the Butterflies, so that only leaves 4 I need to get my hands on by June.  I’m up for the challenge.

A few quick notes about snubs, before I wrap this up: I’m gutted that My Year of Rest and Relaxation and Severance didn’t make the list, I thought both had a very good chance.  While I personally wasn’t a huge fan of Washington Black I’m really surprised not to see that one on there as well.  Of books I haven’t read, the ones whose omissions surprise me the most are probably Women Talking by Miriam Toews, Motherhood by Sheila Heti, and Transcription by Kate Atkinson.  But, oh well!  If the 8 I’ve read are any indication, this is shaping up to be an incredibly solid list.

And!  I stand corrected, regarding a statement I made in my predictions post.  There is not a SINGLE WWII novel on this list.

Here’s the full longlist with links to each on Book Depository:

The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker
Remembered by Yvonne Battle-Felton
My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Pisces by Melissa Broder
Milkman by Anna Burns
Freshwater by Akwaeke Emezi
Ordinary People by Diana Evans
Swan Song by Kelleigh Greenberg-Jephcott
An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lilian Li
Bottled Goods by Sophie van Llewyn
Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli
Praise Songs for the Butterflies by Bernice L. McFadden
Circe by Madeline Miller
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss
Normal People by Sally Rooney

What are your thoughts about the Women’s Prize longlist?  Which have you already read and which are you planning on reading?  Any books that you really wanted to see on the list that didn’t make it?  Let’s chat in the comments!

mini reviews #5: recent literary releases & classic nonfiction

I’ve decided to start swapping these over from Goodreads in chunks of 4 rather than 5.  Big changes around here, clearly.  See all my previous mini reviews here, and feel free to add me on Goodreads to see all of my reviews as soon as I post them.

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WAITING FOR EDEN by Elliot Ackerman
★★★★☆
date read: December 25, 2018
Knopf, 2018

For being so sparse, Waiting for Eden manages to pack a powerful punch. Ackerman meditates with surprising insight (aided by potent religious symbolism) on the very nature of life and the impossible decisions we have to make when our loved ones are suffering. This was succinct and chilling.  Pick up a copy of Waiting for Eden here on Book Depository.

 

 

38819868MY SISTER, THE SERIAL KILLER by Oyinkan Braithwaite
★★★★☆
date read: January 15, 2019
Doubleday Books, 2018

This was tremendous fun from start to finish. Sure, certain elements could have withstood a bit more depth and detail, and it’s destined to disappoint anyone expecting a proper thriller, but for a quick and pacy character study it was extremely satisfying. Braithwaite toes the line between satire and realism so deftly that you manage to get properly invested in these sisters even as their actions shock and horrify.  Pick up a copy of My Sister, The Serial Killer here on Book Depository.

35487749CENSUS by Jesse Ball
★★☆☆☆
date read: January 31, 2018
Ecco, 2018

I had trouble engaging with this book emotionally or intellectually, which isn’t to say that it isn’t intelligent or emotional, just that I personally did not find it particularly accessible. There is a very real possibility that a lot of this just went over my head, I will admit that, but so much of this book just felt wanting; the relationship between the father and son seemed generic, the experimental narrative came across as underdeveloped, the speculative element and the characters’ journeys felt dissonant. I have no doubt that this was an intensely personal project for Ball based on the novel’s introduction, and I’m sure it will be feel intensely personal to a lot of readers, but something about it just didn’t click for me.  Pick up a copy of Census here on Book Depository.

730745SISTER OUTSIDER by Audre Lorde
★★★★☆
date read: February 19, 2019
Crossing Press, 2007
originally published 1984

Sister Outsider was a really fantastic introduction to Audre Lorde for me, though its episodic nature isn’t my favorite way to digest nonfiction and I think I would have preferred to stay on track with any one of these essays for a hundred pages rather than to bounce around from topic to topic the way this collection is structured (though all pieces are obviously interconnected to an extent). But still, this is a sharp and insightful and seminal work that I’d recommend.  Pick up a copy of Sister Outsider here on Book Depository.

Have you guys read any of these, and what did you think? Feel free to comment if you’d like to discuss anything in more detail.